Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jitters Get Best of Uptagrafft in Olympic Pistol Debut

by Michael Molinaro
U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit

LONDON, July 29, 2012 - Despite having a difficult Olympic debut, Navy Reserve Petty Officer 1st Class Sandra Uptagrafft's experience in London today featured enough goosebumps and memories to last a lifetime.

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Navy Reserve Petty Officer 1st Class Sandra Uptagrafft pauses to collect herself while competing in the women's 10-meter air pistol event at the 2012 Summer Olympics at London's Royal Artillery Barracks, July 29, 2012. U.S. Army photo by Michael Molinaro

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Uptagrafft, wife of Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptatgrafft of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, finished 28th with a score of 378 in the women's 10-meter air pistol event at the Royal Artillery Barracks.

First-time Olympic jitters, common to many shooters who toe the line for the first time on the world's grandest stage, led to a result that was not in her game plan.

"Once I hit the match button, it hit me that I am at the Olympic Games, and it kind of took me out of my rhythm," Sandra said. "It took me a while to settle down and refocus. That's what I was able to do my last two strings. It's really disappointing, because I knew going into the match that this would happen."

China's Wenjen Guo won the gold medal with a total score of 488.1 points. France's Celine Goberville (486.6) claimed the silver. Ukraine's Olena Kostevych (486.6) took the bronze.

Adding to Uptagrafft's displeasure was the fact that her sister Andrea traveled from Singapore yesterday to watch her compete in a match for the first time. Sandra said she was thinking, 'This is not an example of what to do,' and that she was disheartened because her sister saw her shoot poorly.

The outcome, though, had no bearing on the joy Andrea experienced while watching her sister compete in the biggest sporting event in the world.

"It was pretty cool," Andrea said. "I was surprised everyone was so calm and calculated. I was trying to keep calm as well, because I was slightly nervous and hoping for her to do well. I am very proud of her. I know this whole thing is overwhelming."

After the match, the sisters shared a hug. Uptagrafft's husband, however, was not there for the reunion. Eric missed his wife's Olympic debut because of a lack of training space at the Olympic shooting venue for upcoming competitors, which forced several Team USA shooters to return to Denmark to train.

Eric will compete Aug. 3 in men's prone rifle. Although he missed Sandra's match, they were able to share something much more memorable when they walked together in the Opening Ceremony at Olympic Stadium on the night of July 27. That was a moment Sandra said she will never forget.

"Walking into the opening ceremonies was the ultimate high," she said. "I still get goosebumps thinking about it now. To walk the opening ceremonies with my husband, hand-in-hand, just made it that much more meaningful and something I will carry the rest of my life."

Uptagrafft said she enjoyed the camaraderie and support exhibited by all of the U.S. shooters, something they normally do not get to share, because most matches are spread around the world. The venues and the athletes' village have been great, she said.

With one event completed, Sandra is ready to compete again Aug. 1 in the women's 25-meter sport pistol event.
"I definitely had a learning experience here, and I am hoping to take what I learned in this match and take it into my next one," she said. "Hopefully, this got the jitters out of the way, and if I can execute my shot plan, I hope to find myself in the finals."

Army Spouse Competes in First Medal Event of Olympics

By Michael Molinaro
U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit

LONDON, July 29, 2012 - In front of an enthusiastic crowd eager to witness presentation of the first medals of the London Olympic Games, Jamie Gray, wife of a U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit soldier, competed in women's 10-meter air rifle yesterday at the Royal Artillery Barracks here.

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Jamie Gray competes in the 10-meter air rifle match July 28, 2012, at the Royal Artillery Barracks in London, the first medal event of the games of the 30th Olympiad. Gray, wife of a U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit soldier, finished in fifth place overall after scoring a 499.7 in the first of her two Olympic events, three points behind gold medalist Siling Yi of China. U.S. Army photo by Michael Molinaro

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gray, a two-time Olympian, finished fifth after making the final in the event for her second consecutive Olympics. She shot a qualification score of 397, followed with a final round of 102.7 for an overall score of 499.7, a little more than three points behind China's Siling Yi, who prevailed with 502.9 points.

Sylwia Bogacka of Poland won the silver medal with 502.2 points, and was followed by bronze medalist Dan Yu of China with 501.5.

"Personally, I think I shot 39 great shots," said Gray, who finished fourth in air rifle at the Beijing Games. "You can't ask for more than that. I knew I had to have a great final to have a chance. Bottom line is you can't win a medal with a 397. It's not good enough at the Olympics."

The day was a roller coaster of sorts for Gray, who is married to Army Staff Sgt. Hank Gray. After an equipment problem had her scurrying for tools and a quick fix, she started with a perfect 100 before shooting a 99 and a 98. Two of the three dropped shots were 9.9s, meaning she missed two more 10s by mere millimeters.

On the outside looking in with 10 shots to go, Gray nailed all 10 in the center ring, putting her into a five-woman shoot-off for the four remaining spots in the eight-person finale.

Among those in the shoot-off were U.S. teammate Sarah Scherer and good friend Katerina Emmons, the 2008 Beijing gold medalist in the event, who hails from the Czech Republic. All three women made the final.

"Of course, I was pulling for all three of us to make it," Gray said. "At the same time, my focus was on my own shooting, so I couldn't worry about what they were doing."

Heading into the final, Gray, a native of Lebanon, Pa., was in sixth place, but only one point out of medal contention. After the first three shots, she found herself in eighth place along with an old back problem that started to flare up. Similar to the qualification round, she forged ahead and clawed back into contention with a solid string of shots, but time ran out on her quest for a medal.

"She's always been a fighter," said Maj. Dave Johnson, the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and USA Shooting rifle coach. "We've had her on the team since she was 16. She exhibited that toughness back then and still does."

Europe is known as the home of shooting, and the local competitors did not disappoint. The atmosphere was more fitting for an NCAA Final Four game, as the sold-out crowd made for a scene like no other in shooting sports. Music blared while the finalists prepared for the final round, and spectators from around the globe waved their countries' flags.

"The crowd was amazing," Gray said. "We don't have that outside of a final in our sport in the States. It was awesome. I think it would be awesome if every match was like that."

Jacques Rogge, the head of the International Olympic Committee, was among those in attendance to watch the event. Yi came into the match heavily favored and came out on top after a competitive back-and-forth competition with Bogacka and fellow countryman.

"I was up since 5 in the morning," said Yi. "There was a lot of pressure on me. I was quite nervous, but just focused on the competition."

The mission now for Gray and the coaches is to move on and refocus her attention to her next event, women's three-position rifle. Gray will have to wait seven days before getting another chance at a medal, which is a blessing in disguise, she said, because of her recurring back pain.

"It's great to have a break and try to get that under control," Gray said. "I am excited to get on the range tomorrow and get some range time and get in positions again now that air gun is over."

Gray just missed a medal in three events during her Olympic career, and despite a bad back, equipment issues or anything else that may disrupt her normal routine, her coach said there is no doubt that she will be game-ready for her next event.
"In Beijing, she just missed a medal and it was painful, but the experience helped her shoot well a couple days later," Johnson said. "She just got more experience in a final again with this match. I expect her to make another final, and we'll see what happens."

Panetta: Aleppo Attacks Will Cause Assad’s Downfall

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 29, 2012 – The Syrian regime’s attacks on the citizens of Aleppo ultimately will be “a nail in Assad’s coffin,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today.

Panetta is traveling to North Africa and the Middle East for a series of meetings, and Syria figures prominently in his conversations in Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia.

Bashar Assad’s forces have launched heavy attacks against Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. The violence that the regime is launching against its own people will ensure that the regime will fall eventually, Panetta told reporters traveling with him.

The international community has brought economic and diplomatic pressure on Syria to stop the violence and to have Assad step down for a transition to a democratic form of government. “The key right now is to continue to bring that pressure to bear on Syria to provide assistance to the opposition and to provide whatever humanitarian aid we can to assist the refugees,” Panetta said en route to Tunisia.

The United States must not do anything to show that the international community is anything other than unified in the effort to bring the Assad regime down, the secretary said.

Panetta also discussed the chemical and biological warfare sites in Syria that U.S. planners say need to be secured. “We’ve been in close coordination with countries in the region to ensure that this is happening,” the secretary said.

The United States also is working with Turkey and Jordan to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees from Syria.

Secretary Begins Trip to North Africa, Middle East

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, July 29, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said today that North Africa and the Middle East present a confluence of challenges he will explore during his trip to the region.
Speaking to reporters traveling with him, the secretary described what he wants to accomplish during his visits to Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan.
This is the secretary’s first trip to Tunisia. “I want to commend the Tunisian people on the success of their revolution and to thank the Tunisian armed forces for the positive role they play during that time of change,” he said during a news conference aboard his aircraft. “The United States continues to support efforts to strengthen Tunisia’s democracy, and DOD will play an important role in that effort.”
U.S. personnel will partner more closely with Tunisian service members on a range of common regional security challenges, Panetta said. Tunisian leaders, he added, have growing concerns about how to deal with the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb terrorist organization and about how to protect their borders.
Panetta will speak with leaders in Tunisia and Egypt about stability and reform amid the changes of the Arab Awakening. In Egypt, the secretary will speak with leaders about finishing the transition to civilian rule and the need to provide for “as broad a coalition as possible,” he said.
The United States has had a strong military-to-military relationship with Egypt since the 1970s, and Panetta said he wants that relationship to continue and grow.
In Israel, the secretary said, he looks to strengthen the already close alliance. In Jordan, he wants to speak to leaders bearing the humanitarian burden caused by the fighting in Syria.
Tunisia and Egypt represent opportunity for the region, Panetta said, noting that both countries overthrew dictatorships and both have transitioned to democratic rule. “Yet at the same time,” he added, “we are obviously dealing with the continuing threat of extremism, of terrorism, of violence in Syria and the continuing destabilizing behavior in Iran.”
At each stop, the secretary said, he will reaffirm the U.S. commitment to stability in the region.
“Our goal is to advance security by supporting peaceful change throughout the region,” he said. “This means establishing strong partnerships with new democratic governments in the region.”

Panetta to Explore ‘Big Buckets’ of Issues on Trip

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta begins a trip to North Africa and the Middle East today to meet with leaders and take the temperature of a crucial and volatile region.

Panetta will visit Tunisia, Egypt, Israel and Jordan.

The region has seen great change in the past year and a half. Peaceful, democratic change has taken place since the Arab Spring, but Syria, Iran and extremism in general have continued to pose challenges. The secretary “will touch on both big buckets of issues” during the trip, a senior defense official, told reporters, speaking on background.

Tunisia began the wave of change in the region when its government was overthrown in January 2011. Protests erupted in other Arab nations, and Egyptians overthrew their government in February 2011. That same month, rebels in Libya began taking action against the government and finally beat the forces of Moammar Gadhafi in August. NATO and Arab nations intervened in the Libyan conflict on the rebel side.

In Yemen, protests drove the government from power in February. Syrians rose against the government of Bashar Assad, but forces loyal to the regime are fighting in many parts of the country. Effects of the protest movement were felt around the Arab world. Protests occurred in Bahrain, Algeria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Tunisia and Egypt are farthest along the road.

“The message [of Panetta’s visit] is just general support for what has happened in Tunisia,” the official said. “It’s been a relatively stable and successful transition in Tunisia.”

Tunisia has huge economic challenges, and these will be discussed, but Panetta plans to lay out the roadmap for the future military-to-military relationship between the United States and Tunisia, the official said in his meetings with leaders there. “The military has played a positive role in Tunisia,” he added, “and we want that to continue.”

In Egypt, Panetta will meet with newly elected President Muhammad Mursi and with Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Panetta has been in constant touch with Tantawi since former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. Tantawi led the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which ruled Egypt between the overthrow and the installation of the elected president.

The secretary also will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. The men will discuss the whole raft of issues, the defense official said, including regional affairs, the threats to Israel and U.S. interests in the region and the way forward.

Panetta also will meet with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “Our defense partnership is extremely close,” the official said. “The level of interaction of U.S. government officials with Israeli counterparts has been very intense.”

In Jordan, the secretary will discuss important bilateral defense issues with King Abdullah.

“Syria will obviously be a topic of conversation, as the Jordanians are on the front line of that,” the official said. “The secretary wants to hear more about the humanitarian situation – Jordan and Turkey are bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis.”

Army Olympian to Teach Race Walking on ‘Today’

By Gary Sheftick
Army News Service

LONDON, July 29, 2012 – Army Olympian Staff Sgt. John Nunn will teach Americans how to race walk tomorrow morning on NBC’s “Today” show.

Nunn and his Olympic teammate, Maria Michta, spent yesterday afternoon teaching the program’s cast members the finer points of their event. After some instruction, NBC broadcasters Al Roker, Matt Lauer and Ryan Seacrest joined Nunn for a lap around the track.

Meanwhile, Michta coached Savannah Guthrie, Natalie Morales and Meredith Vieira and urged them to try to defeat the men in a race that will highlight the televised segment.

NBC producers said they selected race walking as the sport to showcase because it’s fun, interesting and unfamiliar to most Americans.

Race walking has more of a following in countries such as China and Russia, Nunn said. He and Michta said they hope the “Today” segment will help to make the sport more popular in America.

In race walking, one foot must remain in contact with the ground at all times. The toes of the athlete's back foot cannot leave the ground until the heel of the front foot has touched. The front leg must straighten when it touches the ground and remain straight until the body passes directly over it.

Athletes stay low to the ground by keeping their arms pumping close to their hips. They keep their strides short and quick and push off from the balls of their feet.

After trying it out, Vieira said race walking is more difficult than running. Other “Today” cast members agreed the sport is harder than it looks.

Nunn, 34, has been race walking since he was a youngster. He is a 12-year veteran of the U.S Army World Class Athlete Program and has been training on and off with the program since 2000. He competed under WCAP at the 2004 Olympics, finishing 26th in the 20-kilometer race walk in Athens, Greece.

Nunn is a five-time U.S. National silver medalist in the 20k race walk, but has trained for less than eight months for the 50k race walk, a 31-mile across-terrain event he won at the U.S. Olympic Trials earlier this year and will compete in here Aug. 11.

Nunn said he wants to focus on the 50k in the future, adding that he’d like to stay with the Army and continue training after the London Games.

Nunn said the Army has helped him focus. From basic training onward, he added, the Army has taught him many things, including discipline and how to focus on benchmarks.

“The Army has really taught me how to bring it all in together and realize what is important,” Nunn said.

Nunn’s teammate, Michta, said she has looked up to the soldier since she began competitive race walking as a young teenager.

“I was in high school the first time I met John, [and] he was one of those big-league Olympian race-walker guys,” said Michta, 26. “In race¬ walking … it’s a tight-knit crowd, so you look up to all the senior athletes.”

Michta said Nunn has helped her in London by telling her what to expect.

“It’s great to hear from the veterans who know the ropes,” she said.

Nunn is a single parent, and his 8-year-old daughter, Ella, will join him in London, where the 50-kilometer race-walk course will cover city streets and pass by Buckingham Palace.

Academy UAS program continues to mature

by Don Branum
Air Force Academy Public Affairs

7/29/2012 - U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- Cadets participating in Expeditionary Survival and Evasion Training aren't alone. Throughout the day, winged guardians watch over them, protecting them from harm.

The guardians are Aerosonde Mark IV remotely piloted aircraft, operated by cadet pilots in the 557th Flying Training Squadron facility adjacent to the Academy Airfield. The setup there, with stations and monitors set up to resemble the Combined Air and Space Operations Center in Southwest Asia, symbolizes how far the Academy's unmanned aerial system program has evolved in the three years since it started in 2009.

"In the history of the Academy, we've talked about airpower, doctrine and the strategy of how air assets work in a tactical environment," said Lt. Col. John McCurdy, who directs the summer airmanship program. "This is truly game-changer for the Academy. We're not just teaching cadets how to fly the aircraft -- the real value is bringing in the airpower component to their education."

The UAS program started in 2009 with a pair of Viking 300 aircraft and a dirt runway at Camp Red Devil on Fort Carson, Colo., and focused on flight training and familiarization. Today's UAS program goes well beyond that, said Cadet 1st Class Rusty Thomas, who has taken summer UAS courses since 2010.

"I've seen the program change a lot," said Thomas, who is assigned to Cadet Squadron 04. "The scenarios are a lot more realistic, especially working with ESET. If we'd had this my freshman year, it would have been really cool."

Over the years, both cadet instructor pilots and permanent-party staff have contributed to the program's operational feel, Thomas said. Today, cadet UAS instructor pilots work with the ESET joint operations center to support cadets in the field, relaying their taskings via an isolated, fiber-optic network to the air operations center at the airfield. There, cadets determine how best to support their on-ground classmates.

Three cadets operate each Aerosonde: one pilot, one sensor operator and one mission commander, who takes some of the duties normally carried out by the pilot in an operational environment. They communicate over channels using nine-line combat support requests and Internet relay chat, mirroring the operational Air Force environment.

Cadet 2nd Class Derek Richardson of CS 15 is also involved with the summer UAS program. The prior-enlisted Airman favorably compared the Academy's program to what he saw during his Operation Air Force visit to Beale Air Force Base, Calif., earlier this summer.

"A lot of the stuff we learn her correlates directly to how they operate the Global Hawk," he said.

McCurdy said Air Education and Training Command is scheduled to take over the program in the summer of 2014.

F-22 Raptors deploy to Kadena Air Base, Japan

by Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

7/29/2012 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii -- F-22A Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., have deployed to Kadena Air Base, Japan. The F-22's arrived at Kadena AB on July 27th.

Pacific Air Forces Theater Security Package deployments to the Asia-Pacific region signify a continued commitment to regional stability and security, while allowing units to train in the Pacific theater. F-22's routinely deploy throughout the PACOM AOR.

The F-22 deployment to Kadena AB is in support of U.S. Pacific Command's security obligations in the Western Pacific, and the deployed unit will perform training under the direction of the 18th Wing at Kadena AB.

The United States routinely evaluates readiness and repositions forces as needed to ensure capabilities necessary to meet obligations in the Asia-Pacific region. These deployments demonstrate the continued U.S. commitment to fulfill security responsibilities throughout the Western Pacific and to maintain peace in the region.